Global culture - its promise and its discontent

Karl Acham, Graz (Austria)


We generally assume that economy is a global affair whereas cultures are only of regional importance; furthermore we suppose that knowledge, science, and technology are of universal interest whereas values and norms in the fields of morality, religion and art - i. e. the very core of cultures - are particularistic in their character. But what about the possibility of universal values and a global culture?

'Global culture' may be distinguished, according to the kind of people involved: as the globalized high culture of the elites, and as the globalized culture for the masses. Furthermore, the division between world culture and regional culture seems to be important. World culture, however, is found not to be equally effective on each cultural level; especially the lowest and the highest level of culture are characterized by an increasing globalization. The quest of a world culture is posed in a twofold way in the lecture. At first, negative views will be considered as there are, for instance, George Ritzer's idea of a "McDonaldization" of society, or the theory of "culture industry" of Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Second, positive views are considered under the heading of 'Human Rights'. It is clear that the declarations and conventions created after 1945 did not emerge from nothingness but were founded in old and continuing efforts for the protection of human beings whereby four broad standards of political value have emerged: the rule of law, non-discrimination, self-determination, and the equality of men and women.

In different connections, however, a collision between the particularity of so called 'Western values' represented by the NATO, and the universality of human rights represented by the UN, has attracted attention among legal experts and social scientists in recent times. Above all, the endogenous dynamics of the war at the Balkans threatens increasingly the existence of this civil religion which the West -after its own wars and totalitarian regimes - had regarded as the most important essence and which should be realized at the Balkans with military means: the idea of universally valid human rights.